SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. –Instead of reaching for coffee first thing in the morning, Kathleen Melago, Slippery Rock University assistant professor of music, hums new flute and clarinet melodies ¬– with good reason.
Melago co-commissioned six compositions for those instruments that will be premiered Jan. 15 at Eastern New Mexico University as part of a concert.
SRU musicians are connected to two of the pieces. Stephen Barr, assistant professor of music, and Sean Hamilton, a May SRU music education graduate, wrote original music.
Melago, a flutist, and clarinetist Jennifer Laubenthal, assistant professor of clarinet at Eastern New Mexico University, will perform the six works, followed by concerts March 6 at Westminster College and March 12 at SRU.
“It is very exciting to commission new works, as the people who commission the pieces bring brand new music into the repertoire for the instruments,” Melago said. “We may add additional performances, perhaps at a high school, as the spring dates get closer. Following these performances, we hope to perform the pieces at conferences and to eventually record them. They are really great pieces.”
To commission music means to ask a composer to write a particular composition for a specific purpose or event, usually in exchange for payment and commitment to publically perform works.
Melago and Laubenthal commissioned the music together and have collaborated before. They earned their doctorates in music from The Ohio State University as classmates.
“Commissioning works helps composers do what they do for a living,” Melago said. “It provides a pledge that the works they created will be performed, which means other people might also hear the work and want to purchase it.”
` “Some composers compose more as a second job or passion, but others compose for their livelihood,” she said. “Regardless, I have never met a composer who did not want to have his or her music performed. Composers are gifted in that they have musical ideas and knowledge of instruments and can put that music into existence for others. It's really a beautiful type of communication.”
Melago said the six commissioned composers were asked to write modern music that musicians and non-musicians would enjoy. The concert will offer an hour of music.
After writing their pieces, composers emailed the music to Melago and Laubenthal for review.
“We received the music, printed it, and took it to our practice rooms to decipher it,” Melago said. “Then, we came together and put our parts together to make sure they were cohesive. Then, Jan. 15, the music that was created for us will be shared with the audience members who attend the premiere. That sort of completes the process of the composer communicating his/her works to an audience.”
The professors asked composers to write their pieces last spring. The first of the six pieces were received in August and the last one in December.
“We are so humbled that six composers agreed to write for us, and we look forward to bringing their music to audiences in several upcoming performances,” Melago said.
Barr wrote “Evocation for Flute and Bb Clarinet.” According to notes Barr provided for the Jan. 15 concert, the word conveys two meanings; one, to bring to the conscious mind or two, to elicit a response, as in evoking childhood memories.
“The music of this evocation does not attempt to do either in any concrete fashion,” Barr said, “yet if while listening to it you are moved to daydream a bit, indulge in some flights of fancy, or commune with the infinite, no one will mind, and we will consider the piece successful in its intent.
Hamilton wrote “Five Thoughts on Vitality” for flute and clarinet.
“The piece deals with the processing of large-scale change, represented by systematic 12-tone compositional techniques, as well as intuitive compositional thoughts,” Hamilton said. “Throughout the piece, five main ideas are presented as a means to deal with looking forward, organizing chaos in the present and moving beyond things that once were.”
Hamilton graduated from SRU last May and received the Kate Brennan Music Education Scholarship. A percussionist, composer and educator, he is pursing a master’s degree in music at the University of South Florida.
Other commissioned pieces that will be presented Jan. 15 include “Fantasy on Colombian-Andean Folk Rhythms” by German Alberto Parada, a Colombia-based composer who dedicated his piece to Melago and Laubenthal; “Fantasia Dance for Flute and Clarinet” by Benjamin Williams, a music professor at Mississippi College; “Algonquin Visions” by Daniel Perttu, a composer and music composition and theory professor at Westminster College, and “Tamburitza Dances” by G. Kahkonen, a Pennsylvania flute teacher.
At SRU, Melago supervises music field experience students and teachers music education, woodwinds, guitar and rehearsal techniques. Barr directs three choral ensembles and the SRU Symphonic Wind Ensemble. He is a composer and arranger of concert music for choirs, wind bands and orchestras.
Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.